Just how far can Closed Circuit Television cameras intrude upon
your privacy? They are everywhere - CCTV cameras watching traffic,
building security, on ATMs, street and shopping centres, in
elevators, airports and train stations, on buses, and even inside
offices and businesses keeping an eye on employees and visitors
So where are the limits to Big Brother watching you? Where does
the public good gained from trying to prevent crime end, and the
ever-watching CCTV breaches laws protecting your privacy?
The question came to a head recently when a local resident
complained that the council's new CCTV cameras in Nowra
breached the privacy of law-abiding residents.
Shoalhaven Council installed the cameras as part of a government
and police campaign encouraging CCTV cameras in public places such
as shops, parking lots and parks to prevent crime.
The resident argued before the Administrative Decisions Tribunal
it was not the council's role to collect evidence for the
purpose of prosecuting crime. He produced figures showing crime had
actually increased after the cameras were installed.
The tribunal upheld the complaint, ruling signage near the
cameras did not adequately inform people about the privacy
implications. It ruled the council had not established filming
people was 'reasonably necessary' to prevent crime.
The council immediately turned off its cameras. The NSW
Government was aghast. The decision could lead to challenges for
all CCTV cameras across the State. The government promptly changed
the Privacy and Personal Information Act 1998 to exempt councils
from privacy laws allowing them to use cameras in public places to
collect personal information and to pass that information to
There is no doubt CCTV can help police solve crimes. Just look
at the Boston bombings. They may prevent crimes by identifying
wanted suspects. They may deter crimes by people not wanting to be
But what if you are not breaking the law? What if you are filmed
kissing a person who is not your spouse? What if it captures you
doing something embarrassing rather than illegal?
The rules are people have to be told they may be filmed by CCTV,
the footage only used to identify crimes occurring within the CCTV
area, the film cannot be used to monitor or track individuals who
have not obviously been involved in a crime or for general
But the law is tricky when it comes to a neighbour's
security camera looking into your garden. It depends on whether it
can see into your home.
Privacy laws are complex and anyone with privacy concerns
relating to CCTV or security cameras would be wise to seek legal
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Those types of personal disclosure may still be permitted under the Privacy Act as long as your house is in order.
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